Sinistar on the 2600?!?! Yes you're reading this right; Sinistar on the Atari 2600. Somehow Atari managed to cram the complex arcade game Sinistar into an 8K 2600 cartridge, and the results were simply amazing! After many arcade ports of questionable quality, Atari finally managed to get one right. Too bad they never released it...
For those of you who've never played Sinistar... Shame On You! Sinistar is one of the most beloved (and difficult) arcade games of all time, combining fast action, mind numbing speed, and evil sounding voice synthesis into one explosive package. The main object of the game is to destroy Sinistar, a giant metal creature bent on destroying the universe and whatever else that gets in its way. Of course to destroy Sinistar you're going to need some firepower, and in Sinistar firepower comes in the form of Sinibombs.
To manufacture Sinibombs, your ship needs to harvest Sinisite crystals out of the planetoids. To harvest the Sinisite simply move in close to a planetoid and start shooting away. After a few shots tiny Sinisite crystals will appear which you must quickly grab before they float away. Worker ships fly around the screen and harvest their own crystals to help build Sinistar, taking away valuable resources. In the arcade Workers would also steal your crystals, but for some reason they seem to have turned over a new leaf and give the crime a rest in this version (be thankful!). As you attempt to mine crystals, Warrior ships will zip around the screen attempting to blow your ship to kingdom come.
If you can successfully manage to hold off the Warrior ships long enough to harvest some crystals, your ship will eventually fill up with Sinibombs. It's about this time Sinistar will usually start chasing your ship. If your lucky enough (and destroyed a large number of Workers), you can find Sinistar half built and defenseless, otherwise he'll be on the move and after you. As Sinistar is chasing you, you must press the fire button to release the Sinibombs. Sinibombs are the only thing that can harm Sinistar, so don't even bother trying to shoot him with your lasers. Each Sinibomb will blast off a segment of Sinistar until he is completely destroyed (which takes 18 direct hits). If you only manage to blow off a few segments the Workers will start repairing him, and he'll continue to chase you. If you manage to totally destroy Sinistar you will be transported to the next sector where the action resumes at a harder difficulty level.
It's simply amazing how Atari managed to capture the action and excitement of Sinistar and condense it into the tiny 2600. The graphics are excellent (by 2600 standards), and the controls are sharp and precise. The only places Atari had to compromise on were the voice (which was impossible to reproduce on the 2600), and the controls which had to be simplified slightly due to the 2600 only having one fire button. In the Arcade there were separate fire buttons for shooting and dropping Sinibombs, but on the 2600 your ship has auto fire, so the fire button drops the Sinibombs instead. This really doesn't take away from the gameplay since you were always shooting in the arcade anyway (your fingers just got a bit of an extra work out).
So why wasn't Sinistar released? Around the time Sinistar was being completed (early 1984), the video game market was crumbling fast and many new games never got released. Atari had already commissioned artwork for Sinistar, and the game seems to have been nearly completed so it was probably a matter of weeks before Sinistar would be finalized and ready for production. Perhaps playtesters thought the game was too difficult or wasn't polished enough, but whatever the reason Sinistar got shelved and was forgotten about. An Atari 400/800 version was also in the works and nearly complete.
Programmer Lou Harp claims to have worked on a completely different version of Sinistar for the 2600.